Two NERD grants to DTU Health Tech researchers

Thursday 04 Jun 20


Emil Boye Kromann
Groupleader, Associate Professor
DTU Health Tech
(+45) 23 37 22 38


Kirstine Berg-Sørensen
Groupleader, Associate Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 22 27 58 68

Two researchers at DTU Health Tech receive 13 and 12.5 MDKK from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s new programme NERD.

NERD is an abbreviation for New Exploratory Research and Discovery, and the purpose is to support truly exceptional research within the natural and technical sciences. The grant is awarded to a creative, daring and ambitious single principal investigator to provide long-term stability and continuity to explore exceptional ideas with potential application in the life sciences or biotechnology.

Associate Professor Emil B. Kromann - Spatial frequency-sequential probing to capture structural details and fast dynamics in organ-on-a-chip systems

Initially, the project focusses on developing a new type of hardware, geared for fast imaging of complex biological samples. In the long term, this will boost ongoing efforts in DTU Health Tech’s CitBIO consortium, where other state-of-the-art microscopes are already being implemented, and where Professor Niels B. Larsen and others develop organ-on-a-chip systems.

”We aim to take microscopy to the next level. At present, we cannot observe how human cells respond to new metabolites, drugs or pathogens, when the cells are part of an organ. However, a new technology called ‘organ-on-a-chip’ may change this. These coin-sized chips can host human cells, which can form small artificial organs inside the chips. As the artificial organs grow more complex, they also grow more difficult to image. We will develop a new microscope, which will allow us to observe details and fast dynamics inside individual cells in complex organ-on-a-chip systems. If we can do that, we have a platform for tailoring treatments to specific people and a way to circumvent the use of animal models”, Emil B. Kromann says.

Further down the road, the imaging concept that Emil B. Kromann is developing, may also be applicable in other connections, e.g. imaging of other complex samples like intact tissues and bacterial biofilms, and adaptation for imaging beyond the visible/near-visible spectrum of light.

Another important aspect of the project is its potential to strengthen student learning and kindle new research initiatives across the Department of Health Technology and across DTU. Emil B. Kromann concludes, ”While the project has a well-defined central purpose, the grant from NNF also supports ad hoc exploration of the new ‘small ideas’, which will inevitably come about during the project. Working with DTU Skylab I have already seen how our BSc and MSc students can catalyze small ideas, and make them into something bigger and more tangible. By harnessing Skylab’s facilities and including our students as active contributors to the project, we have a win-win for tech-development and student learning”.

Associate Professor Kirstine Berg-Sørensen - Intracellular mechanics and diamond based sensing

Kirstine Berg-Sørensen’s project will exploit the possibilities of quantum technology to provide highly sensitive information of physical parameters in biological systems. She will apply optical trapping and quantum sensing by means of diamond sensors in live cells to learn more about the physical properties of our immune system, i.e. immune cells’ ability to absorb and render foreign objects harmless.

“We will let macrophages from the immune system absorb nanosized diamonds with a built in nitrogen-vacancy defect. When we add light in the form of laser-pulses, these diamonds comprise state-of-the-art high-sensitive quantum technology, which will allow a localized measurement of temperature. These measurements go along determination of mechanical properties using the optical trap in which the diamond serve as a probe-particle. The ultimate goal of the project is to transform the diamond into a measurement device that investigates protein composition and structure through Nuclear Magnetic Resonance inside the cell. To reach this goal, a large part of the project focuses on developing proper protocols for diamond-based sensing, and therefore both boosts and complements the research with larger diamond crystals conducted by my collaborators in the BioQ project, hosted at DTU Physics with participation from DTU Health Tech”, Kirstine Berg-Sørensen explains.

 “We expect that our results will contribute with an innovative approach to investigating physical properties of for example the immune system’s cells and at the same time a completely new application of promising quantum technology”, Kirstine Berg-Sørensen finishes.

The initial steps of the project are further supported by a grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark, including collaboration with Associate Professor Alexander Huck, DTU Physics, and Associate Professor Martin Dufva, DTU Health Tech. Kirstine Berg-Sørensen hopes the NNF funded project will nurture additional research initiatives within the Department and at DTU.


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